Extra-statutory Concession A19

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:58 pm on 4th December 2012.

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Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley 4:58 pm, 4th December 2012

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mr Streeter. I can assure you that we are discussing a tax issue and not a road or an aeroplane, which is probably a relief to the Treasury Minister responding.

Several of my constituents who sought to make use of the A19 concession have expressed concerns after, in their view, being unreasonably denied. For the record, that is the concession whereby if a taxpayer has underpaid tax because the Revenue failed to use information that it was provided with in a timely way, it can agree not to collect that tax from the individual. That is particularly relevant when collecting that tax, which may cover several years, would cause hardship to the individual. The most severe cases I have seen are those involving pensioners who have been presented with a sizeable bill.

I want to raise three aspects this afternoon. The first is how HMRC currently applies concession A19 or, in many cases, does not apply it. Secondly, I wish to ask what an appropriate appeal or review process for those decisions might be. Thirdly, I will say a few brief words about HMRC’s consultation on changing the concession from next year.

The easiest way to illustrate my concern is to talk through the case of one of my constituents. I will not name him for confidentiality reasons, but he had a job working in a factory from 1997. In 2001, he started to receive an occupational pension from a previous job. Everything worked well, and his tax was collected accurately, his employer had a coding notice with his personal allowance, and his pension was taxed at the basic rate.

Everything worked fine for five years until June 2006 when, for reasons unbeknown to the Revenue and certainly to my constituent, it decided to change the tax code for the pension, effectively giving him a personal allowance on two sources of income. That went undetected until February 2011 when, following a reconciliation process, the Revenue sought to collect the tax from my constituent for the previous four tax years—a bill of £5,000.

The Revenue issued the demand to my constituent, and did not think to go after either his employer or the pension fund. I believe that the pay-as-you-earn regulations state that in the first instance the Revenue should go to the employer if it believes that it has misapplied the rules. It would be helpful if the Minister confirmed that that is his understanding of the process. It does not happens often, sadly.

My constituent eventually took advice from a local firm of accountants, which advised him that concession A19 might apply. However, the Revenue rejected that on a couple of occasions, and there is concern about the thoroughness of the review and the fairness of the summation of facts. It rejected the application because its only failing was that it had not reviewed forms P14 and P35 provided by the employer and the pension fund and realised that the personal allowance was being used twice. Its reason was that the purpose of the forms is not to inform the coding notice process, as required by the wording of statutory concession A19.

That logic is bizarre, because the best information that the Revenue receives to decide whether someone is paying the right tax is those two forms, which that all employers must file within so many days after the year end, and I suspect that that is how the Revenue has reconciled people’s tax affairs manually in the past. I think it now uses the information electronically to make that reconciliation, so I struggle to see much logic in saying that the information about what an employee has earned in a year and what tax they have paid is not relevant to the coding process. That process it is designed to find out what income and benefits someone has had in previous years, and to work out what tax they should pay in the next year and therefore what code they should have. The issue has been raised with the Minister by the Association of Taxation Technicians, the Chartered Institute of Taxation, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in a letter that they sent him in August.

The Revenue’s other argument was that the taxpayer should have understood that the coding notices were wrong. That is even more bizarre, because it was arguing that my constituent had started his employment in 2005, not 1997, and that his employer had never told the Revenue that he was working for it, so it did not issue any coding notices. That was all complete rubbish, because he had been employed for much longer, and the employer had issued coding notices, which had been applied correctly.

It is strange that in its letter the Revenue said that my constituent should have been able to work out that he was receiving two personal allowances by comparing the one coding notice it thought he had with his payslip or P60. That was surprising. The Minister and I might just about be able to work out how our tax code has been arrived at, and to divide it by 10 and add a random letter at the end depending on whether we owe it money or not, but I suspect that when benefits are added the process is much harder, and it is not easy for an ordinary member of the public to work out what a coding notice means. The explanation of how various adjustments are calculated is not clear, and to expect someone to do that by working back from a tax code that they might spot on their payslip is somewhat unreasonable.